Writer’s Blog

Disappointments in Language Learning

I’m disappointing myself with my progress.

I’ve been learning Dutch. I’ve been living in the Netherlands for more than a few months now, and I can’t help but feel disappointed by myself.

I’ve tried countless programs, added things to my learning list, cut things from my learning list. I’ve watched tv programs and youtube videos in Dutch, I’ve tried communicating with people in Dutch. I have attempted to speak Dutch more around the home.

I’ve listened to countless help videos on youtube from polyglots or language learning enthusiasts and honestly, the way they speak about how quickly I should be able to ‘acquire’ a language.

It puts me down.

In theory, I should be able to learn Dutch in a year to at least a conversational standard. It takes 660 hours for the average brit to learn this language. Granted I haven’t hit those hours yet, but the longer I live here, the more disheartened I feel.

How it’s going.

The last few days, I’ve taken some huge steps backwards in my language learning. That’s most likely because I haven’t been practising as much as I should.

Practising is frustrating when you find yourself making the same mistakes over and over again.

Conversations are also a tricky one because depending on the topic and vocabulary used, you can be reasonably fluent or a bumbling fool. This makes it difficult to converse because nobody really knows what level I’m on, sometimes I don’t even know. My ability to speak a new language constantly shifts.

Depending on the day, how tired I am or just how much vocabulary I know about any given topic can change how effective I am in my communication.

That makes progress tough. You can have a fluent-ish conversation one day and a stumbling broken one the next. Thing is without those conversations that you struggle with. You’ll never know what you need to learn next.

To remember.

What language learners need to keep in mind at times like this is where we started.

I’m so much better and braver with my speaking than before. I need to remember that I am just a baby speaker and that I’m still learning how to use a new and unfamiliar language.

I’m allowed to make mistakes. No one expects me to speak perfectly.

Here is the other thing, I’m allowed to make mistakes in Dutch for the rest of my life. There is never going to be a day when I can say absolutely everything that I want to at any moment in time. I still can’t do that in English, and that’s my native language!

Why do I expect so much from myself in a language that I haven’t been using for twenty-four years of my life when I still make mistakes in English?

We language learners need to give ourselves time, practise and patience. It’s not all going to click in one day. It’s like changing gears from lowest to highest. There will be a few clicks throughout the process. I need to give myself time to shift gears and adjust to newer difficulties.

Making more mistakes when speaking isn’t a bad thing for language learning. It simply means that I’m being braver and trying new ways to communicate. The fact that I am now willing to try and speak despite the potential mistakes says so much about where I actually am on the progress scale.

Don’t give up on your target language. Mistakes will happen forever. It’s about understanding that mistakes don’t mean you’re doing badly at language learning. Mistakes mean that you’re developing confidence and you’re willing to try new things!

Author, writer and general young unprofessional!

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